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Highway Construction Quickens in SW China Province

With the recent opening of a 130-km highway, expressways in southwest China's Sichuan province cover 1,500 km altogether, the highest in mid-western China region.

The highway linking Mianyang and Guangyuan cities cost 4.4 billion yuan (about 530 million US dollars), and driving by car from the provincial capital of Chengdu to neighboring Shaanxi province now takes only four hours.

In the past, it took ancient Chinese months to travel from Shaanxi to Sichuan, stumbling along the only precipitous link between the two places, a wooden path on and around cliffs built some 2,300 years ago and named the "Shudao" or the road to Shu (the abbreviation of Sichuan).

Weng Weixiang, director of the Sichuan Provincial Transport Department, said completion of the highway meant the ancient steep, rigorous wooden path would gradually fade into history.

The new road also laid a solid foundation for the construction of a national expressway linking Erenhot city in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and the Hekou Autonomous county of ethnic Yao people in Yunnan province, which according to Ministry of Transport plans will be a trunk line connecting the north and the south.

Given that Sichuan stood geographically at the gateway to western China, Weng said, the mountainous province would play an increasingly critical role in the construction of the country's highway network, with a dozen south-to-north and east-to-west national highways due to be built in the future.

By 2010, he noted, an extensive transport network with Chengdu as the starting point will cover southwestern China and give a shot in the arm to local economy.

And Sichuan's highways would cover 4,000 km by 2020 and car journeys from Chengdu to neighboring provinces like Yunnan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, Gansu and Chongqing Municipality would then takeno more than half a day, he said.

In the next five years, another 700 km of expressway would be completed and financing for those projects was already underway.

Investment of various kinds from both at home and abroad were welcomed, he said.

Since its first highway between Chengdu and Chongqing opened in1990, Sichuan had 17 expressways built with a combined investment of 39 billion yuan (about 4.7 billion US dollars).

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